Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Category/Rating: Gen, PG for language. ~6000 words
Original Story: No Traveller Returns by greyias
Summary: The further adventures of the Repliteam.
Note: I'm pretty sure I failed at the concept of remix; I only hope that Greyias doesn't hate it too much. Many, many thanks to auburnnothenna, aurilophile6 and icarus_ancalion for reading, asking pertinent questions and comma patrol. I've poked at this very extensively since their fine efforts, so everything here is my fault. Epigraphs by Thomas Wolfe.
Thank you _minxy_, for the opportunity, and answering all of my questions so patiently!
He was like a man who stands upon a hill, above the town he has left,
yet does not say "the town in near,"
but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring ranges.
yet does not say "the town in near,"
but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring ranges.
This world, the latest hop in their effort to stay ahead of Oberoth and his terrible vengeance, was cold and inhospitable. Their rotten luck was holding out; the jumper's half fried power conduits had perhaps one, two flights left before the power was gone and the circuits failed altogether.
John shivered and walked faster; he'd given his expedition jacket to Rodney, and exercise was the best way that he knew to warm up, but it was a futile effort. The moment that he stopped, the thin sheen of perspiration would make him feel even colder, but he welcomed it. It was a cold day in hell, and the chill was his own, personal, mortification for sins that he hadn't committed; that he even existed was his guilt.
At least in Afghanistan, he'd had a self-righteous fuck you to shore him up through the disciplinary action, and he'd gone to Antarctica with that feeling to keep him warm.
He didn't have that now. Through no fault of his own, he'd been exiled once again, and this time, a Stargate wasn't a journey towards redemption. It was just another leg on a one-way trip to nowhere, away from all that he'd known and loved, without any hope of return or reconciliation. The knowledge hurt physically, like a punch in the gut that left him breathless. At least in the past he'd known it was his fault when he had to leave--his father, Mitch, Dex, and Holland, Afghanistan--
No, he wasn't going to think about his past. He was a blank slate now, and he had to stop thinking in terms of never again seeing Atlantis, Earth, his father or brother--even though before, he'd had no expectation of rapprochement from that quarter--they weren't his any more.
It was a waste of all that he thought he remembered accomplishing in the last four years. Saving Atlantis, once, twice, thrice meant nothing; all that belonged to him.
He'd said that it would be difficult to convince him that he wasn't pretty close to the original, but upon further reflection, how much of what he recalled was the truth? He was an unnatural being filled with unreliable memories, distorted through the lens of alien machines and the recall of a nanite-infested Elizabeth Weir.
They were neither human nor Replicators; they belonged in a kingdom of five.
If ever there was a time for strategic retreat, a clean break, this was it, but Rodney McKay had other ideas. Rodney, for all of his sarcasm and constant patter of certain death, was an optimist at heart: he still believed that they could go home again.
John paused on a promontory that overlooked their pitiful camp. The powered down jumper sat to one side of the clearing, the Stargate visible through the trees across the narrow valley. Rodney sat at the fire, huddled close to the faint warmth it provided, bundled in four thin jackets in an effort to stave off serious illness, while he attempted to mentally deactivate the nanites within him at the expense of the perfect health that they afforded to the rest of the team.
This was an on-going argument, had at least once daily since he'd overheard Rodney questioning Elizabeth about her experience with Niam's nanites. It still infuriated John, because in the short run, Oberoth's tracking them was a minor inconvenience in the face of Rodney's pneumonia, for which they had no recourse, no medicine, no warm and safe place to hide and lick their wounds, emotional or viral.
"Rodney! Just give us some time to figure this out. Even if you deactivate your nanites, what are the odds that you can get into Atlantis? Because I have inside information that calculate them right at about nil."
"Sheppard, listen to me--if they're inactive, deactivated, there's no reason that we'll be any danger to Atlantis--we can go back!"
"To what? You think that McKay's gonna share? Does that sound like you? That they're just going to accept you for what you are?"
Rodney had then verbally skewered John with the same precise skill with which he had attacked so many others. "Unlike the calcified ranks of the military, in science there is always room for brilliance." He'd turned away, resolute in his nearly insufferable righteousness that he knew best, that he had all the answers.
At that moment, John had seriously contemplated homicide, though after a week's consideration, he almost reached the point where he might have conceded the argument, because he was desperate for that faint strand of hope; but Rodney came down with a cough and fever that his increasingly hampered nanites couldn't deal with, couldn't heal. This was the trade off that John hadn't been prepared for.
He felt that it was unlikely that Atlantis' Sheppard would accept the risk and allow them into the city, not after their true nature was revealed. John knew how far he would go to protect Atlantis--it was the only fact of which he was certain--and that sent shivers of fear for Rodney's safety down his spine. But dammit, Rodney was right, Elizabeth was right; they needed support, and he had to trust their reliance on the John Sheppard that they remembered.
Below, Elizabeth walked out of the weedy forest and sat next to Rodney, wrapping her pale arm around his shoulder. Teyla and Ronon were out hunting for whatever beast they could bring down with a rope and a knife. A gust of wind scattered the fire's thin smoke, and a hint of drizzle drove John back to the camp.
John watched Rodney hack and cough, shivering despite the layers of jackets. If he were to reach across the fire, put his hand on Rodney, touch his skin, it would be hot. Rodney's eyes were glassy and fever bright.
He glanced over at Elizabeth, and she looked... satisfied, nearly Machiavellian in the firelight. Oh, no--this wasn't completely Rodney's doing. He pitched his voice low and angry, "You couldn't just leave it alone, could you?"
Elizabeth tilted her head, but before she could reply, Teyla quickly chastised him, while she urged a mug of tea composed of an herb she'd scrounged from the underbrush into Rodney's shaking hands.
He knew that that Elizabeth was only partially to blame, because there wasn't a mystery or puzzle in the known universe that Rodney didn't feel compelled to solve, but it felt good to lash out. John clutched at the dirt in an attempt to restrain the physical violence that threatened to overwhelm him as Rodney croaked, "I think I'm close. I'm positive, I can shut them down, and then—"
"And then what?" John snapped. "Then we can go back to a home that's not really ours? Then your mild case of pneumonia can develop into the Pegasus equivalent of SARS?"
"Then we can stop running!" Rodney barked hoarsely.
"John," Elizabeth said, "we can't keep going on like this."
He bit back on the impulse to remind her that 'this' might not have been an issue, if she'd counseled Rodney to wait a little longer. His alternate plans had been consistently shot down, and John wasn't going to start yet another rehash of the issue. "I know."
Rodney coughed, and wheezed, "I can fix this."
God, he sounded so certain, with the purpose and vision that set him apart from the ordinary. No, this was not completely Elizabeth's doing--this was classic McKay. He took a deep breath and relaxed, let go of the clump of dirt in his hand. "You better mean you can fix your nanites," John replied softly, "Your whooping cough is scaring off all the game."
He got a sharp look in return that summed up every argument, every point of logic that they'd fought and bickered over since they'd escaped certain death at the hands of the Asuran death squad.
"Damn it, Rodney," John swore softly, as he ran a hand over his face. "We can out run Oberoth's crew."
Ronon interrupted the conversation by throwing another log on the fire and arranging the day's kill over the rising flames. "Food should be ready in a few minutes," he said, and then carefully chose a seat that could be construed as neutral territory.
Elizabeth thanked Ronon, probably as much for the food as his timely interruption, and then said after said a pause, "I think we should sleep in the jumper tonight."
Rodney looked at her incredulously, as if she had just announced that the Earth was flat. "What? Why?"
"Because," John said tightly, "you're not going to last out here in the cold. We should've ignored your whining about draining power last night."
Teyla laid a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Even if we do not power up the jumper, it will be beneficial to have you out of the elements. I fear that it will storm tonight. Please, allow us to help you."
Elizabeth stood up and gave John a commanding look. He followed her a few steps away from the fire. "Yeah?"
She spoke quietly so that their conversation wouldn't carry back to the others. "We need to leave a message for Atlantis."
She held up a hand to forestall his argument. "We need supplies, something to help Rodney fight off this infection, and all of the expedition's notes on these nanites."
John didn't bother to modulate his voice, and replied hotly, "We can't risk—"
"—Losing Rodney. Just because we can't go back to Atlantis, does not mean that we're alone out here." She crossed her arms, as if daring him to disagree with her.
He couldn't, not now. It was obvious that Rodney was soon going to succeed in his quest, and then the illness would have nothing to hold it back. Rodney had no immune system to speak of, it had never actually been operational; the nanites had always superseded that part of his new anatomy. It was an object lesson for them all.
"Atlantis has a John Sheppard looking after it," she reminded him softly. "He won't let us do anything to jeopardize it."
That was what he was afraid of. "I don't see how we can do it," he said tersely. "We can't dial them, or endanger any of our allies. Not until we figure out how Oberoth is tracking us."
"Luckily you have a very bored genius over there working on the problem." Elizabeth nodded towards the fire.
John bit his lip as he took in the scene. Ronon was slicing off bits of cooked beast and handing them to Rodney on the tip of his knife. Rodney delicately pulled them off without touching the blade. There wasn't enough to fully feed their nanite-powered metabolisms, but they'd all wait until Rodney had had his fill.
The realization hit him hard. Rodney really would complete his plan and he'd go to Atlantis--alone. He was going to go a place that used to be home, without John, without backup from his team.
The crack in his facade must have shown, because Elizabeth lifted her hand to him.
He shifted to avoid the unwanted comfort, and returned to the fire, Elizabeth close behind him.
Ronon handed out joints of the small animal and they ate in silence, each of them lost in thought. When the meal was finished, Ronon wiped off his knife, and cut off a dread and fed it to the fire. The acrid smell of burnt hair filled the air.
"Ronon?" Teyla asked.
He looked up, and his face was open and raw. "Time to start over."
"Then allow us to help." Elizabeth took his knife, Teyla with her own, and they began to carefully cut away his long locks. John shifted closer to Rodney, out of the smoke of the burning hair and watched the transformation until Ronon was completely shorn, and ran a hand over the jagged, uneven haircut. "Thanks."
Teyla pulled him to her by the back of his naked neck and touched their foreheads together.
It was odd, but John couldn't ever remember Teyla doing that with Ronon. Was that true, or were there other memories that he'd lost in the translation?
The drizzle turned to drenching, cold rain and drove them to take shelter in the jumper. John powered up to heat the cabin, while Ronon pushed Rodney down onto one of the padded benches and growled, "Lay down," and then sat up against it to keep him from falling out during the night. The relief from the shivering was not enough to make them sleepy; the howl of the growing night storm kept them awake.
It was easier to talk when they couldn't see one another's faces in the dim glow of the control panels in the forward cabin. Ronon started the conversation with a gruff, "So what's next?"
"Rodney will need a safe place from which to dial Atlantis; he should go to New Athos. As long as he does not reveal his... condition, my people will gladly welcome him. Though, I suppose that I cannot call them 'mine' any longer," Teyla said bitterly. "I do not know how they will react, nor do I wish to find out."
John knew exactly how she felt. "We're all in the same boat, Teyla."
"Not me," Ronon said. "I'm tired of running. We need to do some chasing."
Elizabeth reminded him quietly, "There's a few things we have to do first, but we'll get there."
They talked far into the night about their plans, from regaining the Asuran ship they'd hijacked from M7R-227, to going back to the fake Atlantis to see what was left to scavenge, if anything, until Ronon unexpectedly changed the subject. "I'm not him, I don't want to be called Ronon anymore."
Teyla chided him, "Ronon, we have discussed this. You are still you, you do not have to do this."
"Nope, Sheppard was right--we almost had ourselves convinced. But we're not them, are we? We haven't really lived the last year, have we? My memories feel flat, passionless. Not enough of them."
Teyla's sigh was loud in the silence. "Yes, I see your point. I am also bothered by their quality."
"I'm sorry. I wish there had been more for you," Elizabeth apologized.
"It is not your fault, Elizabeth. We are what we were made to be, and the memories of one person could never be sufficient for all of us. I believe that John and Rodney's memories may be somewhat more complete, as you spent many more hours together this last year, in your dealings with the city."
Rodney said with a rough laugh, "It still feels like I have Swiss cheese for brains, though."
"Yeah," John agreed.
"Still, we're two weeks old, time for a naming. My name is Jedric now." Ronon sounded truculent, and though it was too dark to see, John could just picture the expression on his face.
Teyla said sadly, "I do not wish to forswear all that I was. I name myself Tegana, in memory of my mother."
"Tegana, that's lovely. So why Jedric?" Elizabeth asked. She sounded confidant and curious, with barely a hint of compassion and John wondered yet again what had happened to her, after he had left her behind, after they'd escaped with the ZPM.
Ronon answered in a matter of fact way, "He was my birth brother, died when he was a few months old."
Elizabeth made a sympathetic noise that sounded fake to John, and she tentatively tried out the name. "Jedric, I'm so sorry."
Jedric shrugged in the faint light. "I never knew him."
"I suppose not. When I was a little girl, I often wished that I had been named Marie. No reason, just a childish longing for escape, to occasionally be someone else." Elizabeth chuckled. "Now, I guess that's a dream come true, in a way. Marie, I choose Marie."
Rodney coughed and then rasped, "There's no way that I'm going to be Rod, or Mer, or any other permutation. I guess, hhm. Ingram. My mother's maiden name. It's on all of my degrees, anyway, and I earned them as much as he did."
John was steadfastly silent. He understood the need that drove them to name themselves as alternates, but for himself, he didn't see the point. He had an incredibly common name, and he still hoped that there was room in this galaxy for the two of them. He might not be that John Sheppard, but he was certainly this one.
"I'm good, thanks."
The rest of team accepted that without comment. They were silent for a time, until Marie cleared her throat. "We need to arrange a series of contact points and dates, to meet up after Ingram has completed his part of the plan."
Tegana and Jedric conferred over suitable planets, and Marie entered them into the tablet PC that McKay had left with them before the ambush. Ingram thought that six weeks was overly cautious, but John insisted. It was dawn by the time the list was complete and the planetary addresses were memorized for every three days for six weeks' time. There hadn't seemed to be any point in leaving the jumper. It was warm inside and the morning light revealed a thin rime of snow on the ground. They drowsed and napped, taking turns tending to Ingram, his worsening symptoms the flagman of his progress. By midday he croaked, "I've done it."
Marie stroked the sweat from his forehead. "Very good."
"I should go now--I don't know how much time I have."
Jedric grunted, "And Oberoth's gonna be close."
John radiated tension and distress as he hovered near Ingram. He'd tacitly agreed to the plan by giving in to the inevitable, but the whole thing stank. Tegana reassured him, "John, my--" She stopped and swallowed loudly. "The Athosians will care for him, and make sure that he gets to Atlantis."
"I know, but I have a bad feeling about this." There were too many unknown factors, and John wasn't sure what bothered him more, that Ro--Ingram was going without backup, or that they were being left behind.
"John, we can't go with him, we'd just lead Oberoth to New Athos," Marie reminded him gently.
"I know, dammit! I know!" He turned away and sat at the controls to fly the jumper the short distance to the Stargate. It was a faint hope, a weak and tattered rope thrown over a precipitous cliff, but John grabbed it and held on. After all, John Sheppard always tried to never leave anyone behind.
Jedric and Tegana worked together to strip the jumper of all the portable supplies they still had. Ingram was to take the jumper to Atlantis and wouldn't need them. It was another risk, a flaw in the plan, John thought, which presupposed that Ingram would be allowed immediate access to Atlantis, to her infirmary, and that he wouldn't die of pneumonia before he got there.
John landed just outside the splash zone in front of the gate and moved to the back, helped to bundle the things they were taking with them on their flight across the galaxy into rough packs, and carrying them outside into the frigid day. When they were done, Marie assisted Ingram to the front of the jumper. He sat in the pilot's chair, his pasty gray face bathed in sweat, and his chest wheezed and rattled with every shuddering breath. She asked with some alarm, "Are you sure you can do this?"
He reached for the controls and began dialing the gate. "Yes, yes, I'll be fine--eventually. Don't look for me for a couple of weeks, though."
Marie set the tablet in his lap and squeezed his shoulder. "Of course. Be safe."
Ingram took a shallow breath, and coughed, "You too." The splash settled back into the gate and John made sure that the cabin doors were firmly closed before he followed the others down the ramp.
They gathered next to the gate. Jedric waved the all clear to Ingram, and then jumper was swallowed whole.
Tegana reached out to dial the DHD when the wormhole snapped closed.
"Make it somewhere warm this time, willya?"
Jedric grinned. "Yeah."
They nearly dove through the gate to escape the whine of an Asuran cruiser; John thought that had been way too close for comfort. Jedric immediately turned around and dialed another address, and then twice more, until they ended up on a familiar looking world.
John shot him a querying look. "Why Sateda?"
"Weapons, maybe some other stuff we can use. Come on, the armory's this way."
"Don't you think the Wraith might still be watching this place?"
Jedric gave him a wolfish grin. "I figure we can get armed and out of here before the Wraith come, and if they do..."
Tegana matched Jedric's fierce expression. "Perhaps they will run into Oberoth."
"Don't you remember? I tell you, you are dead, Ben."
"Fool," said Ben fiercely, "I am not dead."
"Then," said Eugene very slowly, "which of us is the ghost, I wonder?"
"Fool," said Ben fiercely, "I am not dead."
"Then," said Eugene very slowly, "which of us is the ghost, I wonder?"
Ingram flew out of the gate, the jumper wobbling slightly as he performed a low altitude fly-by of the Athosian encampment. He was shocked to discover that there was no sign of the Athosians, only crews of Atlantis personnel combing through the abandoned tents and nearby forest. He landed the jumper, and stumbled more than walked to the end of the ramp, where Lieutenant Kemp's team waited. Ingram lifted his hand and said, "Hi," and then passed out.
Ingram awoke to the susurration and beeping of medical equipment, and that peculiar intermingled smell of Earth disinfectant and alien ocean air that was uniquely Atlantis' infirmary. He felt the bite of an IV in the back of his hand as he raised it to adjust the cannula so that it wasn't stabbing the tender skin of his nose. A familiar voice said, "Hey there."
He opened his gummy eyes to see... "Sam Carter? What are you doing here?"
Sam grinned, "I work here now."
And god, that smile; just one of a million little things that he'd never expected to see again. There was a dizzying moment that felt like he'd stepped into an alternate reality, and actually--that wasn't too far off the mark. "Oh, you took Elizabeth's place?"
"That's right. How are you feeling?"
There was a sympathetic expression in her eyes, and Ingram couldn't ever remember Sam Carter looking at him that way. "Like death warmed over. How long have I been here?"
"Just a few hours. Dr. Keller did the initial triage on New Athos, until we determined that your nanites were inactive."
"I wouldn't have endangered Atlantis, I wouldn't have come if--" He interrupted himself with a deep, harsh cough that racked him with pain and left him gasping for air.
"I know. Get some rest, McKay, and we'll talk when you're feeling better."
"Ingram," he croaked.
"My name is Ingram now."
Sam nodded slowly. "Alright. I think I understand that."
Ingram closed his eyes as she left the room.
He couldn't help it; he flinched every time that Dr. Keller reached for him. Rationally, he knew that she wasn't the renegade Asuran in disguise, but the association was too recent, and the knowledge that he, in some bizarre, convoluted fashion, was the one responsible for unleashing that terrible capability, had left a stain on his guilty conscience. What was worse, Jennifer had only given him a small, sad, knowing smile and left him in the care of another physician, one he didn't know at all, a quack whose degree was probably written in crayon.
To add insult to injury, the infection was viral, and so they could only treat the symptoms: immunological boosters, antivirals, breathing treatments, oxygen, antibiotics to stave off ancillary infections and fevers, and he still felt miserable, itchy and uncomfortable and annoyed that the only people he'd seen since he'd fully awakened were medical staff.
Ingram hadn't been told much more than that Sheppard's team was out in the field. He presumed that Carter was running interference because his repeated requests to see Zelenka had been ignored, and when he questioned that, the answer was to be patient, that Carter wanted to debrief him first.
He huffed his annoyance when she finally showed her face in the isolation room. "It's about time."
Sam grinned. "Oh, you are definitely feeling better."
"Somewhat. I'd feel a lot better if I knew what was going on around here!"
Sam stood by the bed with her hands clasped behind her back, which signaled to him that this was going to be a short visit. She shook her head, "I can't tell you that. Let's start with you telling me why you've come back to Atlantis. What do you want?"
Ingram frowned at her firm tone of voice. John had told him to expect this, but he hadn't believed him, had been stuck in the groove of 'the greatest mind in the galaxy, times two'. "Well, as you can see, we survived the ambush, all of us, but it wasn't the ship, the Replicators are tracking us through our nanites, even though we're not part of their collective. I managed to deactivate mine—at great risk to my health, I might add—to come back to Atlantis to get help in determining how they're tracking us and shut it down."
"Without deactivating the nanites in the others."
Ingram cocked a finger at her. "Exactly!"
He turned his face away. "It's an advantage to us out there. Because they don't think that we'd be welcomed back here." Ingram looked up, "If. If we can't come back, then we need supplies; food, clothing, weapons and equipment. I brought a list. I assume my jumper is being repaired and recharged?"
Sam frowned and tilted her head. "Yes, it is. You're going to have to tell me everything, Ingram. I'm probably one of four people in two galaxies that actually understands your situation, but I can't justify the risk--"
He interrupted her, "Are you kidding? The five of us represent a combined force of scientific knowledge and military tactics out in the field, unconstrained by the IOA and SGC. We can go places that you can't, do things that would kill you. Fight the Wraith. Help take down the Asurans."
"I understand that, but how do you intend to do it?"
"The ship we took, it's still there. But we can't go back to inspect it until we know that we're not being followed. Maybe you could send a team to do a damage survey? In return for the supplies, we can provide you with information; we'll be able to move freely around the galaxy once we have that ship and get Oberoth off our tails."
"I see." She paused, and then she shook her head. "I'll have to take it up with Colonel Sheppard's team. I think they might have something to say about it. It's going to be a few days, though; they're out of the city. In the meantime, I want a full written report and proposal."
Ingram raised his empty hands and gave her a sarcastic look.
"I'll take care of it. In the meantime, you just concentrate on getting well."
A few days later, the medtech approached him with two yellow legal pads and a handful of sharpened pencils. Apparently Carter didn't want any of this on record. He rolled his eyes, and snapped his fingers and held out a hand to take the office supplies.
Nearly two weeks later his immune system had finally kicked in, and the virus had run its course. Ingram had been released from the infirmary and assigned temporary quarters. He'd barely had a chance to inspect the room when the door chime sounded.
"May I come in?"
"Of course, " He said, as he gave a grandiose hand flourish to wave her in.
She closed the door behind her with a tap at the control panel, and they stood there for a moment, eyeing one another. "Well, have a seat." He indicated the chair and he sat on the edge of the naked mattress, linens folded at the foot. "Have you decided?"
"I still haven't decided how much information to give you, if any, but here's the thing. While Sheppard and his team are mostly willing to work with you? Some events of the very recent past give me reason to believe that it wouldn't be safe for you or your team to permanently return to Atlantis. The temptation would be too great for certain organizations back on Earth."
Ingram stared at her, the unmentioned scenario unfolding in his imagination. None of them had voiced the possibility that they'd be taken back to Earth for experimentation. He gave her a pleading look, "But you wouldn't let that happen, right? You wouldn't just hand me over." He couldn't believe that she would allow it; he was still partially human, anyway.
"No! But if it comes to that, it might be out of my control. The Odyssey and Daedalus are expected in-system within the next two weeks and while Caldwell and Ellis are both good men, I would rather not have to explain your presence at all."
Ingram searched his memories carefully. Caldwell was vivid and alive, but Colonel Ellis was vague and hazy, and the difference in the quality of memory made him certain that the automatic, visceral dislike had to be Elizabeth's. "I see. So what do you propose?"
"I don't have any reconnaissance teams available; we're in a bit of a crunch at the moment. The best that I can do is to give you the supplies you want and remove the source of the temptation before they arrive. There's still a risk of this getting out--records can be altered or removed, and I can't wipe the memories of all of the personnel that've seen you here. The IOA will eventually find out about your existence."
It was less than he'd hoped for, but far more than what John had expected; he'd laid odds that Ingram would never even make it into the city. "What about the data on the nanites? I had hoped to work with McKay and Zelenka."
"I'm sorry, but that's not possible, though we have an associate working on it. The information will be uploaded to your laptop and returned to you before you go."
"What am I supposed to do in the meantime, am I a prisoner?"
"In short, yes. I trust you to stay here to minimize contact beyond the few people that already know that you're here. I won't post a guard outside; that would attract attention. I can't allow you access to the network, I have to limit the amount of current information that you have, in case you're ever captured by the Asurans or Wraith."
"I've worked here for years! I already know the location of Atlantis!"
"I know that, but there's only one way to effectively remove that risk."
Ingram stared at her in horror. If John had thought of this, had calculated the probability that Atlantis would join the hunt to shut down a potential security leak, it was no wonder that he'd objected to the plan.
Sam shook her head. "We didn't go there in the past, and I won't go there now. Besides, we have no idea what happened when Oberoth destroyed the other Atlantis. He could very well have that information already, and is only biding his time in coming after us. At the moment, it's apparent that they have other objectives. For your own safety, I can't allow you to stay and I can't prevent you from gallivanting around the galaxy, putting yourselves and us in further danger. I can only hope that by giving you aid, that you'll be able to keep that from happening."
He couldn't help it; he had to ask, "What other objectives?"
Sam stood up and walked to the door before she turned and looked him in the eye. "The Asurans have begun to fight the Wraith—by the systematic destruction of their 'food supply'."
Ingram gasped, "Oh, God." He knew, they all knew, what McKay had done, but not the repercussions of that action.
"Which is why we're a little short handed. One more thing—thank you for the data core, it has been invaluable. Make sure that the others know how much we appreciate it. With it, we've been able to start evacuations ahead of the attacks."
He nodded and began, "How—no, never mind, you wouldn't tell me anyway."
"I'm truly sorry. I wish it could be different—it would be fantastic to have the extra resources that all of you represent, especially now. It's possible that in the future, we can revisit the proposition."
Sam gave him a short nod goodbye and left. Ingram haphazardly stretched the sheets over the mattress and threw himself down, still weak and tired from illness, and enervated from having his dreams dashed on the rocky shores of reality. He wondered about the mysterious events that had Sam worried for their safety. The divide between what was, and what is. How his team was faring.
He'd only laid there a few minutes when the door chimed again, and no one entered when he yelled. He took a chance, and opened the door. True to her word, there wasn't a guard outside, but a laptop had been propped against the door, and it nearly whacked his foot when it fell inside.
Ingram booted it up. As expected, it was deaf and dumb, but one look at the file directory and he knew that it was a gift from McKay; an affirmation of the promise of brilliance times two, for it contained all of his theoretical research that had been back-burnered for years, in favor of crises and imminent destruction.
The only visitors that Ingram had in a fortnight were the quack with the crayoned degree and the corporal who delivered his frequent meals and snacks, but he didn't care; Sam had made her position clear, and he didn't intend to give her any reason to change her mind about the other option.
He spent his hours sleeping when he wasn't testing and reassuring himself that the important things, the science and math, were still intact and whole in his mind.
And they were. It was fantastic; here was the proof, the gold standard, that beyond a few fuzzy details about people, places and events of the last year, that he was complete, and that he could trust himself.
The door chime sounded and he didn't bother to get up from the bed, it was time for his tray from the mess hall. "Well, come in, what are you waiting for?"
"Nice, McKay." Sheppard leaned against the open door frame.
"Oh. I wasn't expecting you."
"Well, nobody expects--"
"Just don't finish that sentence and you can come in."
Sheppard shrugged and closed the door behind him, and set a duffel bag on the desk. He glanced around the bare room, and then sprawled in the desk chair. "How's it going?"
"Fine. I'm entertaining myself and being a good little prisoner."
"Sorry about that."
Sheppard grimaced and stared at him until Ingram shouted, "What?"
"The Daedalus and </em>Odyssey</em> are gonna be here in a couple of days, so we have to kick you out. Dr. Balangopian said that you were good to go."
"Oh." The rush of emotion at the pronouncement was unexpected. He'd known that it was inevitable, and a gilded cage is still a cage, but the rejection still hurt, because he'd nursed some tiny flicker of hope that they might change their minds.
Ingram swallowed and blinked, and busied himself. He turned off the laptop, and straightened the bed covers as he calculated the date. He could just make the next scheduled meeting point with his team. "Now?"
"The jumper's packed and ready to go. Everything on your list, and a few other things we thought you might need, too."
"That's very generous of you."
Sheppard gave him a short smile. "Listen, I know that Carter doesn't want to give you any information, but you need to stay away from M7R-227."
Ingram scoffed, "Right, as if we're going to deliver ourselves to Oberoth."
"We're going to put together an offensive, and I don't want him to get some bright idea, and then you guys get caught in the crossfire."
"Huh. I should've expected that."
"Yeah." Sheppard leaned forward and braced his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together. "One way or the other, I think this will be over in a few weeks. If we're successful, and you're successful, then we'll find some way to stay in touch."
Well, it was slightly better than being firmly kicked to the curb forever. "I assume the information we need to kill the tracking program is ready?"
"You can check it out before you go. McKay and one of our associates said they had it all worked out."
There it was again--'associate'. The expression on Sheppard's face said it was a long story, and Ingram supposed that he'd never hear it. "Well, then, I guess we should go."
Sheppard stood up and gestured toward the duffel bag on the desk. "One of his uniforms is in there. Just come on out when you're ready."
The door closed behind him and Ingram opened the bag. The uniform was on top, and he sucked in a surprised breath when he saw what lay beneath: Sheppard's battered copy of War and Peace, one of Ronon's favorite knives and the leather thong with Wraith finger bones, and a pair of Teyla's bantos rods, and along with a few other miscellaneous items, data disks.
He wondered what was on them, but there would be time to go through them later. He dressed quickly, tossed the laptop into the bag and left the room without a backwards glance.
The walk to the jumper bay was quiet; the sight of McKay and Sheppard strolling the halls was so familiar that no one paid any attention to them. Ingram drank in what was probably his last moment in the city, storing up the memory against the long years (he hoped) of permanent separation.
Ingram did a quick inspection while Sheppard sat on a bench and watched. The jumper was packed to the brim with everything they had asked for, down to the last Tampon; the power readings were at one hundred percent, and the data on the laptop checked out; yes, they could do this. He tapped a few more keys and jammed the device in the bag with the gifts. "Everything looks in order."
"Good." Sheppard stood up and ran a hand across the back of his neck. "I guess I'd better let you get on with it."
"Yeah. Thank you, for this and well--for deciding not to kill us."
"I told Elizabeth that we'd be willing to work something out, and I meant it. I'm just sorry that, well. You'll understand," he said with a firm nod to the duffel.
"Oh," he said, with a dawning realization of what had to be on those disks. Team mission notes, the originals—the ones that had the embarrassing stuff edited out before they were officially filed. Information beyond what Elizabeth had ever known.
Sheppard tilted his head and gave him an ironic half smile. "Yeah. Be safe out there, buddy," he said, and then left the jumper.
Ingram shook off the surprise, and prepared to leave the city behind. "This is McKay, ready for departure."
Sam answered him, and he assumed that she'd cleared the gate room, and that this event would be hacked out of the records, along with everything else that pertained to his existence. "You have a go, Dr. McKay. Have a nice flight."
He resisted the impulse to say good-bye, and maintained the carefully orchestrated charade. "Will do." He dialed a random gate address and the open wormhole, the best, longest, last voyage, beckoned to him.